Accelerated parole for offenders convicted of child sexual exploitation
The accelerated parole review provisions of the Corrections and Conditional Release Act (CCRA) are such that any first-time federal offender convicted of a "non-violent" offence must be considered for accelerated parole. The CCRA defines an offence involving violence as
"murder or any offence set out in Schedule 1."Under the provision, the Parole Board of Canada can deny an offender's release only if there are reasonable grounds to believe that he or she is likely to commit an offence involving violence before the expiration of his or her sentence.
While the intent of the provisions may speak to the need to consider public safety, they do not meaningfully acknowledge that crimes that are not considered "violent" under the CCRA can nonetheless have very serious impacts on victims. One such example is child sexual exploitation, where the impacts on children are as yet not fully understood but can be devastating. As child pornography offences are not included in Schedule 1, an offender convicted of child pornography must be considered for accelerated parole.
The Ombudsman recommended to the Minister of Public Safety an amendment to the list of Schedule 1 offences of the CCRA to recognize child pornography and luring as offences that involve violence.
Funding for Child Advocacy Centres
Victims of Internet-facilitated child sexual abuse suffer a unique horror. Not only are they abused, but the evidence of their abuse is shared over and over again, around the world, and can never be totally erased. Victims must live knowing that these images are still being used by collectors, and that they could surface at any time.
Unfortunately, very little research has been done to understand exactly how this unique abuse impacts victims, and what can be done to help them heal. One resource that may provide much-needed support is the child advocacy centre. These centres provide an integrated approach to helping children who have been victims of abuse by bringing key victim services, such as statement collection and counselling, together in one child- and family-friendly location.
Child advocacy centres are proven to work. Edmonton's Zebra Child Protection Centre has found that its work has led to reduced trauma for children, more charges laid, more guilty pleas and higher convictions rates. Additionally, families are generally more willing to access services if they are on site.
According to Statistics Canada, the number of charges for the production or distribution of child pornography increased by 800 percent between 1998 and 2003. That figure is even more astounding when one considers that sexual abuse is often under-reported. Unlike the United States, which is home to hundreds of centres, there are fewer than six in all of Canada. Canada must expand its child advocacy centre network and make these quality services available to all our children.
In advance of the January 2009 budget, the OFOVC submitted a recommendation to the Minister of Finance to set aside $5 million to develop a cooperative opportunity to study the impact of child advocacy centres in Canada with a longer-term goal of developing a national strategy to promote their growth across the country.
Notifying victims of the deportation status of offenders
Currently in Canada, victims who have registered with the Correctional Service of Canada or the Parole Board of Canada have a right to be notified of what institution the offender is being held in, when his or her potential release date is, as well as of any temporary absences. However, if an offender is released into the custody of the Canada Border Services Agency, the victim has no ability to obtain any more information about the offender. Victims are not informed whether a removal order was issued, whether the offender was temporarily released into the community pending an appeal or whether a decision has been made to allow the offender to remain in the country.
This can have very serious implications for victims who fear for their safety and are not able to determine whether the offender has been deported or not. For example, the OFOVC was contacted by a victim who had been trying for years to determine whether the man who was convicted of sexually assaulting her and two other women was ever deported from Canada. She was so concerned for her safety that she went into hiding after the offender was released from prison because officials would not confirm whether the offender had been removed from the country.
Victims should have the same rights and services within the deportation/immigration process that they have in the corrections and parole system, including the right to be notified if an offender is the subject of a removal order and the right to provide input into decisions about removal or release from detention. Similarly, victims should be made aware of Immigration Review Board hearings and have the right to attend and present victim impact statements orally or in writing.
The OFOVC made a recommendation to the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism that the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (IRPA) be reviewed to determine what amendments are necessary to address and enhance the role and voice of victims.
Making offenders accountable for harm done to victims
The Victim Fine Surcharge (VFS) is a fine that is to be applied to convicted offenders at the time of sentencing, the proceeds of which go to support victims' services. The VFS was introduced in 1989 and amended in 1999 to make imposition mandatory, but the change had little impact.
The Criminal Code requires judges to impose a VFS in all cases, although there is some discretion if the offender can prove that paying the federal surcharge would result in undue hardship to either himself or herself or his or her dependents. If the court waives the federal surcharge, it is required to provide reasons why it is not being imposed and enter the reasons in the record of the proceedings.
Despite these requirements, a Department of Justice Canada report, Federal Victim Surcharge in New Brunswick: An Operational Review, found that judges routinely waive the surcharge and, in 99 percent of the cases in which the surcharge was waived, there was no documentation of reasons for the waiver. As a result of judges routinely waiving this surcharge, most jurisdictions have recovered only a portion of the anticipated revenue they need to support victims' services.
Beyond the use of the VFS to support victims' services, it also serves the purpose of making offenders aware and accountable for the harm they have done to victims. Section 718 of the Criminal Code includes two objectives of sentencing. Subsection 718(e) speaks to the importance of reparation for harm done to victims and (f) addresses the need to promote a sense of responsibility in offenders to acknowledge the harm done to victims. The surcharge addresses both principles in that it ensures that funds from offenders support important provincial victim service and compensation programs, which are in place to help victims recover from the harm done to them. It also contributes to the offenders' sense of accountability by holding them responsible for payment of the fine.
The OFOVC recommended to the Minister of Justice that subsections 737(5) and (6) of the Criminal Code be repealed to remove the discretion of judges to waive the surcharge and make it automatic in all cases. Additionally, the OFOVC recommended to the Minister of Public Safety that the first $100 of a federal inmate's pay go to satisfy his or her VFS.
Providing support to victims of crime
In addition to the emotional toll that a crime can take, victims can also experience significant financial losses. This can happen as a result of the costs associated with travel, lawyers and family obligations or, as a result of the emotional toll, victims may miss work or lose a job. In some cases, family members must adapt to provide full-time care for seriously injured or incapacitated victims who are no longer able to care for themselves.
On May 27, 2008, Bill C-550 was introduced into the House of Commons by Member of Parliament Ms. France Bonsant. Bill C-550 would amend the Canada Labour Code and the Employment Insurance Act to allow employees to take leave from work with benefits if a minor child suffers serious physical injury during the commission of a crime or as the direct result of a crime, or if there is the disappearance of a minor child or the suicide or murder of a spouse or child.
While the OFOVC applauds progress in providing victims the necessary supports to recover from and cope with the tragedies they have experienced, it is also necessary to ensure that these kinds of reforms would provide the maximum benefit to the largest number of victims. During the course of its work, the OFOVC has found that while employment is an important issue, the ability to work is not among the most common complaints the Office received. Furthermore, if employment is found to be a serious concern for most victims, then Bill C-550 may be too limited. For example, it refers only to children who suffer physical injury and it appears victims of sexual abuse without serious physical injury may be excluded.
The OFOVC recommended that the Government undertake a review to determine the impact of Bill C-550 as compared with the needs identified by victims. Consultations should be held with the Federal/Provincial/Territorial Working Group on Victims, victims groups and victim advocates to gather their input and to facilitate their contribution to this important discussion.